Category Archives: Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings

A Slight Delay: Apologies…and Stand By

It hasn’t been a particularly good weekend.

i dedicated the two days to finishing our trellis painting after Paul Shipley and Jacob helped me…er, the two of them putting up the last replacement beam with me helping, and my posting the next installment of my book in progress.

Well, strange weather bit me in the…ah, you know. Pacific storms forming and then riding the Japanese Current after hurdled across the Southwest corner in spades, taking our derogatory term “May Gray” to a new level. Therefore, no painting on the trellis.

Worse, my installments are now dependent on my actually completing the draft. That’s why i went to a one a week on Sundays rather than two a week. i’ve got most of the stuff lined up through the deployment, but i wanted to make sure it all was correct from the standpoint of when and needed the ship’s logs on microfiche to verify.

i ordered the logs about twenty years ago, maybe more, at least before microfiche became antiquated. i had also bought a reader when they were abundant and cheap. But in my wisdom (not) while cleaning out the garage attic, i tossed it forgetting i needed it for the ship’s logs.

When i began this project, i realized i needed to read the microfiche. i bought a reader on eBay for $120 but the seller forgot to tell me it had been converted to battery power. i hooked it up and smoked the mother board. The guy took it back and refunded me but it set me back about two months.

So i started looking at libraries around here to find a reader. There were only two within a reasonable distance i could determine actually had one. So i spent about ten or twelve days driving to San Diego State and the Chula Vista main library to record the logged events up to the Yosemite arriving at anchorage of Masirah, Oman.

Since i’ve reached that point in the installments, i drove to the Chula Vista library yesterday. When the reader light would not come on, i went to the desk to determine why. It broke. They didn’t know when it would be fixed.

i thought i would try the internet again. i found several on eBay and Amazon. The ones on eBay seemed reasonable, like in the $200 range. However, they required the buyer to pay shipping which came close to doubling the cost. Boo.

So this morning, i decided to travel to SDSU and use the one i had found initially. i walked through the rain to the library, went down three floors to the basement, walked down the hall to the microfiche room where a locked door had a notice reading “Closed Until Further Notice.”

i was distraught so i did what all good sailors do. i came home mid-morning and had a beer.

Before taking my nap, a requirement for old farts who have a beer mid-morning, i decided to take one quick stab at Craig’s List. Bingo. Rick had put one up for sale two weeks ago. Twenty bucks. i took Maureen and Sarah to South Park, bought my monster, and took them to The Rose Wine Bar for lunch, a double good thing.

So the bottom line is there is not a real installment on the book today. i will get one out in the next day or two. The good news i am no longer inhibited by the lack of microfiche readers. After all, i have this monster:

Stand by. Installments on their way.

Oops to Chapter 8

Two days ago, my fat fingers hit the wrong button and a very rough draft of the beginning of Chapter 8 was posted rather then being filed in the “draft” folder.

i have deleted the post and am working on Chapter 8. The next installment will be posted before Friday.

i once again have proven i am technically challenged and sometimes…oh, okay, most of the time, a little goofy from aging.

i apologize for any confusion.

Chapter 8: En Route Masirah, Oman

Chapter 8: En Route Masirah, Oman
     Underway.
     There is nothing, nothing in the world like being  underway at sea, especially on a Navy ship. Aboard the Anchorage, the Okinawa,  and the Yosemite “underway” was particularly enjoyable to me. They were either doing the job they had been built to do, e.g. Anchorage’s job was to load and unload equipment and troops by landing craft, boats, or helicopters; Okinawa’s job was to fly helicopters; and Yosemite’s job was to provide repair and maintenance services.
     The umbilical cords had been severed. Underway, the ship had become its own entity. True, orders from above dictated where the ship was to go and what it was to do when, but it was the ship and her commanding officer that determined how she would accomplish her mission and how well she would fare.
     i loved my time aboard five destroyers USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764), USS Hawkins (DD 873), USS Waldron (DD 699), USS Stephen B. Luce (DLG 7), and  USS Hollister (DD 788). They were true “greyhounds of the sea,” and could do so many things uniquely. They were either practicing in exercises or providing a forward presence for the most part. One could feel the sea when on a “tin can.” The landing ship dock, the helicopter carrier, and the tender were working ships. On cans, i felt like i was cavorting. On those other three, i felt more like i was serving my Navy and my country, working.
     And Yosemite was underway again. She felt good underway. Although I did not know how long we would be near Masirah, Oman, from experience I knew us being at work would make the time go faster. It was a good time for this Exec. He escaped from his desk with piles of paperwork, his inspections, and the lines of officers and enlisted outside his office to the bridge and watch junior officers at the task he had enjoyed throughout his career, usually on the maneuvering ship.
     Shortly after we cleared the toes of Diego Garcia and headed north we would be making US Navy history again. As discussed between the two commanding officers when McCormick was alongside in Diego Garcia, we transferred two of our women officers, Sharon Carrasco and Emily Baker, by small boat. The seas were calm and the boat transfer went off smoothly.
     They were undoubtedly the first women officers on a  deployed combatant in the US Navy. The plan, as i remember (but cannot find a source to verify) was for the two officers to remain on the McCormick until  the day before we reached Masirah, a period of five days. However, my recollection is we sent a radio message noting the transfer to our chain of command. Then we received a responding message with the order to transfer them back immediately because there were to be no Navy females, officer on enlisted, on combatants. It should be noted the commanding officer does not recall any such adverse orders and remembers Sharon and Emily’s time on McCormick was the scheduled three days and two nights, which was their actual  time aboard the guided missile destroyer. My recall, which can be spotty, may have been impacted by my sense then and now most senior officers in the Navy did not want the program to succeed.
     Regardless, the Yosemite’s time with The Lynde McCormick was good for our officers and crew. We had the opportunity to let our junior officers get a feel of Navy ships maneuvering. The McCormick began to make approaches alongside, giving their conning officers and ours training in what was a staple of ship handling in my time: underway replenishment.
     Yosemite, serving as the replenishment ship, maintained course and speed, normally twelve knots into the seas while the McCormick made approaches to approximately 120 feet off of our starboard beam. The McCormick’s conning officer would attempt to maintain station while our conning officers, under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Sitton and Captain Boyle, would ensure we maintained steady course and speed.
     There is no doubt in my mind our crew was excited and impressed and the junior officers learned a great deal about shiphandling.
     The two Yosemite  officers learned even more. After departing our company that day, they went off to do exercises at speeds the Yosemite could not approach. On the morning of the next day, McCormick conducted “man overboard” drills.
    a man overboard drill was one of the first exercises I experienced as an ensign aboard the USS Hawkins on her way back from a Mediterranean deployment in 1968. Admittedly, it took me a while to figure it out. The drill consists of throwing “Oscar,” a kapok lifejacket assembled to look like a person over the side.  Someone then yells, “Man Overboard, Starboard (or Port) side!” The word is passed to the bridge where the conning officer immediately begins to maneuver to clear the propellers from “Oscar” passing down the side, then reversing course to find “Oscar” and retrieve him with life buoys or since it is a life jacket dummy with a grappling hook (on bigger ships, small boats are used for the actual retrieval of “Oscar”). When Yosemite performed the drills, which was nearly always right after getting underway, Captain Boyle wanted the junior officers to learn difficult maneuvers and required them to get the ship close enough to retrieve the dummy with grappling hooks.
     Once “Oscar” is near, the conning officer maneuvers the ship as close as possible. If done correctly, the ship stops with “Oscar” right next to it. This is no easy feat. Knowledge of the ship’s turning radius, the engines’ action to take effect at different speed orders, the rudders’ responsiveness to turning, and the sea and wind conditions all must be factored in determining how to get close to “Oscar.”
     Ensign Emily Baker, when I asked (she is now married and her name is Emily Black), provided the following narrative of her experience during the drills on the McCormick:
…the Lynde McCormick‘s CO decided to hold man overboard drills. All the junior officers were assembled on the bridge wing and the fun began. It was a windy afternoon, which played havoc with the maneuvering. All the attempts resulted in some combination of being downwind of the dummy, surging past it, being dead in the water too soon, etc. Much backing & filling was required to retrieve Oscar each time for the next JO. The CO put me near the end of the line-up, which gave me ample time to study the wind and get a feel for how much the ship continued to swing after a turn and its momentum after stopping the engines. Finally it was my turn and I took the con. As we got back up to speed, I noticed that topside became quite crowded with sailors, compared to earlier in the exercise. Apparently, word had flown around the ship that one of the female officers was about to try her hand, and everyone wanted in on the show. I felt really confident and loved conning such a responsive ship. (Sorry, Yosemite, no disrespect intended!) After Oscar was tossed into the drink, I brought the ship around perfectly. We were at right angles to the wind, motionless with Oscar on the leeward side exactly below the bosun mate on the fo’csle. All he had to do was drop his grappling hook straight down to snag the dummy. The CO watched all this with a completely neutral face, then when Oscar was safely back on board he turned to his JO’s, raised an eyebrow, and said “Well, boys, you’ve just been shown up!”
     I felt on top of the world, and obviously I’m still feeling the glow decades later!
     This story continues to live on in family lore. I had my children at the tail end of my Navy career, and as a result they have no memories of my being on active duty. However, as they were growing up, my husband and I told them many stories of our military service. (My husband, John, was also a Navy SWO, although he didn’t stay in for an entire career.)  When my younger daughter started high school, her English teacher assigned the class to write a profile of someone they considered a hero. My daughter decided to write about me. She called her essay “My Navy Mother” and focused on how unusual it was in the early 80’s for women to serve on ships. She also included this story of the man overboard drill.
     I recall Emily recounting this story to some degree when she returned with Sharon on the small boat transfer. i thought to myself that being a conning officer on a ship does not require a man. I remember not only feeling like we were proving women on ships would work but more so feeling proud of Emily and Sharon and the Yosemite. 
     While the officers were gone on Thursday, October 27th, we lost our gyro. Long before GPS positioning, ships relied on the gyro compasses for navigating the ship. Celestial navigation was the definitive backup for the gyro system. Dead reckoning, using the ships course and speed and any available knowledge of current was a much rougher estimate of position on the ocean but that type of navigation also relied on the ship’s course, i..e. the gyro compass readouts. In other words, the gyro compass was critical for us to get where we wanted to go.
     The next day before we received the two female officers back aboard from the McCormick,  at 0509, the port shaft overheated. As I had learned earlier with the evaporator problem just before we left Mayport, it is a good thing to have your own repair department on board. The gyro and shaft problems might have been corrected by a combatant, but Yosemite could address such problems quickly and did in both of these situations.
     It was a good transit, but at “1708 OCT 30,” a Monday, the USS Yosemite anchored just over twelve miles off Masirah, Oman.
     The next chapter in her deployment was about to begin.

Chapter 7: Diego Garcia and a Change of Plans, part three

i am now at the point where the installments will be written as we go. The previous installments were edited and amplified version of my rough drafts. So there are likely going to be more incorrect passages. As i have noted, i am not a great editor, especially of my own writing.

As i wrote this installment, this is a bit bigger task than i thought it would be. i will attempt to continue to post installments on Thursdays and Sundays, but the installments may become weekly. i still intend to play a bit of golf.

Thank you for your patience.

With the news of our schedule change, our stay in Diego Garcia took on a different tone with the focus shifting to getting underway for an extended at-sea period.

The ship’s in-port business continued as usual. Liberty ran as usual. We ran “I-Division” indoctrination for new crew members reporting aboard. The ship’s basketball team played games against different base organizations’ squads including the “All Island” team at the base gym. The ship’s softball team played several games including one against the “Near Term Predeployment Force.” Small arms qualifications were being conducted. Preparations and study for advancement exams were underway. And the civilian PACE instructors were conducting a number of courses for crew and officers.

Chaplain Poe held church services: Roman Catholic Mass on Saturday and two on Sunday, Protestant Services on Sunday and Protestant Bible Study on Wednesday, and “Free Worship on Sunday evenings, two Church of Christ lay services on Sunday, and Latter Day Saints lay services on Sunday. He was a busy man.

Military Justice also had to be served. This was not a crew of angels. Sailors were sailors and always will be. The results of a Captain’s Mast on Friday, 21 October, were listed in the next day’s POD and make this point for me:

  1. Captain’s Mast: The following are the results of Captain’s Mast helod on 21 OCT 83:
Rate Viol. UCMJ NJP Awarded
FN Art  92: Derelict in duty 30 Days Restriction to USS Yosemite, 30 days extra duty, RIR {reduction in rank} to E2
SN Art. 86: UA {Unauthorized Absence} from unit (2 specifications)
Art. 87: Missing ship’s movement
Art. 134: Breaking restriction
Awarded Summary Court Martial
SA Art. 89: Disrespect to a commissioned officer
Art. 128: Assault
(3 specifications)
Art. 134: Communicating a threat
(3 specifications)
Awarded Summary Court Martial
SA Art. 86: UA from unit
Art. 87: Missing ship’s movement
45 Days Restriction to USS Yosemite, 45 days extra duty, Forf {forfeiture of ½ month’s pay ($286.00) per month for 2 months, RIR to E1
SA Art. 92: Failure to obey a lawful general regulation 30 Days Restriction to USS Yosemite, RIR to E1, Forf of $100 pay per month for 1 month
SR Art. 86: UA from unit
(2 specifications)
Art. 87: Missing ship’s movement 
Awarded Summary Court Martial

Diego Garcia provided its own challenges. The following POD note demonstrates beach liberty could be dangerous:

Safety Note – Cone Shells

Venomous Cone shells can be found in the Diego Garcia area. They have a highly potent venom apparatus and their stings have caused paralysis, coma, and death. Avoid these shells. 

There was another more menacing threat in the waters around Diego Garcia. A 35-foot hammerhead shark had been occupying the lagoon for years. He was considered a pet and nicknamed “Hector” by the folks assigned to the island. Needless to say, swimming in the lagoon was not wise recreation.

It was easy to forget Diego Garcia was not a paradise. It was a beautiful tropical atoll, if humid, far away from where we came. I personally experienced such an awakening on my first stop there for about four days in 1981 while stationed on the USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3) as the current operations officer of the Amphibious Squadron Five staff. I had escaped from other officers and had stopped my vehicle on the side of the road past the Naval Air Facility. At that point, the atoll was less than a half mile across. I walked over a dune to the beach on the ocean side.

I first stumbled upon the carcass of a long dead fish about six feet long. I surmised it was a tuna of some sort but it had disintegrated into being undistinguishable even though there was still some skin attached to the bone. The thought of wading in the ocean quickly vanished with my discovery.

I decided to just walk the beach. I was at peace, almost meditating as I walked slowly along what I thought was a pebbly surface. Then I felt as if I was having a stroke or something. The long stretch of beach began to seem like it was pulsating, undulating, moving. I became dizzy. I wondered if it was a slow earthquake or if the volcano from which the atoll was formed was awakening. I wasn’t afraid yet, but I was concerned.

I kept observing. I looked down at my feet and realized the source of the strange movement. The entire beach was covered by tiny hermit crabs. They were all moving, producing the undulating movements for as far as I could see. I watched fascinated, trying to get my bearings before I finally left. I never went to the ocean side beaches again.

The ship also conducted the PFT (Physical Fitness Tests) over a period of three days. The Navy’s PFT program was created in 1976 over concern many of our sailors were not physically capable of being able to perform in combat or other dangerous situations on ships. This PFT effort was a follow-on to the “JFK” physical tests introduced in the 1960’s by the sitting president, John Kennedy. Ships made a gesture of complying to those tests but there was no concrete corrective action required in the program, and it was mostly ignored and gradually disappeared.

I was all for the new standards of physical fitness. I remembered a few enlisted shipmates from previous ships who were too obese to get through hatches. The new requirements not only required passing the minimum standards of pull-ups or push-ups, sit-ups, and a 1½ mile run, they established a “body fat” minimum.” At the time, failure to meet the body fat standards or to pass the PFT noted the service member could be administratively discharged – later, there was more teeth put into the program with on-board remedial programs for failures, and if that was not productive, the service member could be sent to a Navy program for failure at body fat reduction much like the earlier established drug and alcohol rehab programs. The program was quickly labeled the “fat farm” by sailors (In my final Navy tour, I had a most rewarding experience when I required a senior chief to go to the “fat farm”). If all of these failed to produced results, the service member could be administratively discharged.

Emily Baker (now Black), our DCA recalled the Yosemite included push-ups in our PFT, not pull-ups. Linda Schlesinger, one of our stars in the supply department remembers the command master chief, BMCM Weaver crossing the finish line of the run with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

It was late October. We had been away from our families for a month and a half. For many of the crew who had not deployed before, it felt like we had been gone for an eternity. Christmas was still two months away. But we were reminded we were not going to be like Elvis and be home for Christmas. We had set up a studio for videotaping Christmas messages back home. Those crew and officers who wished to send a message back home could be taped and the videos would arrive back home for the holidays. The tapings brought the realization of not being home for Christmas into clarity.

Although I did not make a video tape for Maureen or Blythe in Texas, I was lonely also. I had made three deployments from 1979 through 1981, but I had been a bachelor then and viewed them as long, hard work interspersed with lots of fun. Now I was married, had been with my wife for a whopping two weeks before the ship left Mayport, and I was lonely as I expressed in a (amended) letter her I wrote 20 October:

Lady,

i have decided, quite on my own, there is no way possible, no way, you can be the woman i think you are.

i mean, i mean, really mean i look at your pictures. By the hundreds, i look at your pictures and know, no matter how gawdawful (Southern term)good looking i think you are, how much more i think you are good looking in the first person.

There ain’t no possible way a woman could be as wonderful as i know you are. So what must i do?

Spend as much time for the rest of my life trying to be with you, at least enough to figure out how you can be this wonderful and how (god bless office panels) i could have found you.

Love, scooby dooby doesn’t hold a candle to our love, scooby dooby.

*     *      *

The possibility of sexual liaisons among crew members continued to concern the command, i.e. the captain, me, and senior officers and enlisted. Although we knew men and women forming romantic relationships would never be stopped, we felt we needed to keep them at a minimum. I was not sure such liaisons would have a disastrous effect on the crew and the command, but I knew such going-on’s could lead to some very difficult problems and possibly create friction in the crew. One of the main functions of my job as XO was to promote good morale. I also was the figurehead for good order and discipline. Both could be threatened if amorous relationships went south. Another important aspect was our charge, specifically the captain’s and therefore mine as well was to make the Women at Sea program successful. Pregnancies while deployed, any negative impact on the ship created by relationships between men and women crewmembers (as well as in the wardroom), fraternization between male and female sailors of different ranks, especially officers and crew would have disastrous effect and possibly destroy the program. I should add such problems would leave an incredible bad mark on the captain’s and my Navy careers.

We didn’t want to throw threats at the crew or continually remind them of keeping their distance. After all, that would be going against the mantra of not having women or men on the ship because they were all sailors first. Still, I felt reminders of acting like sailors would help. The ship held “Military Rights and Responsibility,” “Culture Expression,” and “Women at Sea workshops on a regular basis. I also would frequently add POD notes reminding all hands the weather decks were off limits after taps even during in port periods.

*     *     *

Yosemite was now engaged knee deep in preparing to go to sea. Departments were ensuring they would have the needed supplies for the voyage north and our stay off Masirah (with no definite end date set yet). It was a busy time, but considering all, it was pretty much that way the entire deployment.

On Monday, 24 October, the Lynde McCormick moors alongside to refuel in the morning. That afternoon, Yosemite returns to the POL piers to refuel and then return to her anchorage.

0800, Tuesday, 25 October 1983, USS Yosemite gets underway for the North Arabian Sea and the island of Masirah, Oman. A new chapter of Navy history is begun.

Chapter 7: Diego Garcia and a Change of Plans, part two

This installment follows the Yosemite’s change of schedule, eliminating Perth, Australia as a liberty port and departing for anchorage off of Masirah, Oman with the objective of providing more repair and maintenance services for Battle Group ALFA.

The change made perfect sense. I suspected wanting to be at sea rather than in a port might have played a small part in the captain’s idea. I was elated. We would be at sea. There would be many less problems without liberty. The CO and XO would have much more control over ship’s company, and the change would, in fact, allow us to do our job better and more frequently.

On the other hand, this would also affect our schedule, most significantly our liberty port visit to Perth, Australia. Perth was one of my all-time favorite ports of call. I had spent over two weeks there where i joined the wardroom of USS Okinawa (LPH 3). I was single, and Perth was a wonderful place to visit.

As with all things related to Navy ship’s schedules, that schedule did change. The departure from staying in Diego Garcia make a voyage east to Perth impractical.

With the loss of Perth as a liberty port, the captain and I lobbied through radio messages to the chain of command for the Yosemite to return to Mayport at the end of the deployment by going east, around the world. Of course, we both wanted to circumnavigate the globe. We also mistakenly believed it would be a public relations coup for the Navy: the first Navy ship to go around the world with women as part of ship’s complement. The chain of command, not too excited about getting positive public relations for the Women at Sea program, denied our request.

But we would be headed north shortly. We might have been the first tender to operate in a forward operational area since the Korean War. That made missing Perth and not going around the world a little easier on me.

As the plans were changing, we continued to operate as other tenders had in the Footprint of Freedom. Liberty launches began their round trip circuits at liberty call until the expiration of liberty. Our few rules about fraternization seemed to work. We would watch and other officers would report to us how our sailors would go to the Navy clubs and have a good time. As they left, a number of couples could be seen walking with their arms around each other or holding hands. As they walked toward the liberty launch pier, they would gradually move away from affectionate postures and by the time they arrived at the liberty launch, they would have quit holding each other, not holding hands and mixing with everyone else as if they were not a couple.

Having liberty meant having problems, even on an atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean. One medical report in the ship’s logs for October 16 is proof:

Received injury report on Schmidt, Joe. S., MM3 [again, personnel who had performance  problems are made anonymous by using the name “Schmidt”] Procured head injury from falling out of his rack. Urinalysis to follow.

But even with alcohol available in the clubs and apparently marijuana and possibly other drugs available through sailors not abiding by Navy regulations, we had a minimum of liberty problems. I attribute some of that to the fact male sailors behaved better when they were with women sailors.

*     *     *

But Yosemite had business to do. To do that, we would have to refuel. It had been a long way, since Palma since we took on fuel. Combatants, for all of my time aboard them, refueled at sea.

In my first Navy years, it was from a Navy oiler. Back then, the surface Navy had the destroyer, amphibious, and service forces. The service force consisted of ammunition ships, cargo ships, and oilers. Refueling at sea was a tricky evolution, bringing a ship alongside an oiler, passing hoses from about 120 feet apart, maintaining course and speed (usually 12 knots) with the combatant maneuvering to maintain station on the oiler. The refueling usually took an hour or so depending how much fuel the combatant needed to top off. The fueling was usually accompanied by a high line between the ships with the oiler delivering supplies and mail and swapping movies. It was a demanding operation for all hands from the engineers, to the personnel on station to latch up the refueling rigs, and the bridge where the OOD keeping station was a mark of good seamanship.

By the time Yosemite deployed, most of the service forces had transitioned out of the Navy and became Military Sealift Command ships manned by the merchant marines, not sailors. The amount of refueling at sea had greatly decreased with most refueling being accomplished in liberty ports. It really didn’t matter as Yosemite’s capability to refuel at sea had been removed a number of years before we deployed. In a way, I was relieved. Even though we had the best LDO Bosun I had ever met, a Commanding Officer who was an expert in such maneuvers, and I was a conning officer with tons of experience, we had enough on our plate without having to go through refueling at sea.

On Monday, 17 October, we weighed anchor, moved to the “POL” pier and commenced an all-day refueling, returning to anchorage in the late afternoon.

Our business, Yosemite’s mission, was to provide repair and maintenance services to forward deployed ships. The first was not a destroyer type, but a nuclear submarine. The USS William S. Bates (SSN-680) came alongside and tied up to us the next morning. The one-day alongside allowed us to perform some minimal maintenance and repair work. The Bates primary need we provided was provisions. We resupplied the sub with stores, especially food items. Linda Schlesinger, our ship’s store officer at the time remembers the sub was down to hot dogs and brussels sprouts.

The XO with his requirement to be sure everything was ship shape was a bit concerned.

It was our first maintenance period since deploying, a nuclear submarine getting supplies and maintenance services from a destroyer tender. I was well aware the high jinks submariners could initiate. Their wild liberty escapades were well-known sea stories (rumors) among surface sailors. Those submariners had spent long, long days submerged without any contact with females. Some of their antics on liberty, even commanding officers, were legendary. Again, Yosemite’s executive officer was concerned, but no incidents from the sub reacting to the women crew members occurred, at least as far as I knew.

Later that morning, the USNS Catawba (T-ATF-168), a Military Sealift Command (MSC) fleet tug came alongside to port. She refueled and got underway the next morning.

After Catawba departed from refueling, I went ashore. I went on a run of about ten miles with the doc, Frank Kerrigan. We showered and changed at the gym and then went to the Officer’s Club for dinner. I sat down at the bar for an after dinner drink. Sitting next to me was the master of the Catawba.

Diego Garcia had some new buildings at the base. The transition to new barracks was completed, but the old wood buildings where base personnel originally had been housed were still standing. They reminded me of many of the WWII buildings used for training at OCS in Newport, Rhode Island, or perhaps more so like the barracks in Asia during WWII depicted in movies, wood siding on the outside with interior open space, all on stilts. The Officer’s Club was small and a spot for escape to me. The bar and dining area looked out toward the northeast where the “toes” of the “Footprint of Freedom” were visible. The “toes” were West Island, Anniversary Island, Middle Island, and East Island. The “O” Club had a great view, was comfortable, had passable food, and occasionally gave one the opportunity to have some contact with someone outside of the command, sometimes a needed escape for an all-consuming effort for an executive officer.

Catawba’s master provided me an escape. Unfortunately, I have no record of and do not remember his name. We talked over a couple of drinks. I remember most of the conversation well because I was thinking about my future.

The master related he had been a second class quartermaster on a destroyer with six years in the Navy. He got out, used his navigation experience in obtaining his third mate’s license, and quickly moved up to master of a fleet tug in his early thirties. The salary for a master of any sea-going merchant marine ship was almost three times what I was making as a commander and executive officer with 15 years of service. And the Catawba’s contract was working at sea for six months with the next six months off at home each year.

Being on a ship at sea had become a passion for me. If my quest for command at sea did not materialize, by now a likely result, I considered another option for continuing a life at sea. In my first executive officer tour with Military Sealift Transportation Service (MSTS) which had a name change to Military Sealift Command (MSC) in 1970 while I was XO, I experienced life as a member of the Merchant Marine. Transport Unit One rode the USNS Geiger and later, the USNS Upshur carrying Republic of Korea troops to Vietnam and back to Pusan, Korea. The Navy transport unit officers consisted of a commander CO, the XO, two doctors, and a chaplain. The medical team consisted of a chief and six corpsmen. Two “storekeepers” were assigned to the unit. One second class yeoman, a boatswainmate chief and two seaman rounded out the unit.

I had actually considered finishing my obligated Navy service of three years, attaining a third mate’s license with the merchant marine and spending my life at sea. But my career goal was to be a sports writer, and an offer from a good friend to become such in Watertown, New York, was too good to turn down. After my three year obligation, I left active duty and became a sports writer and then sports editor of The Watertown Daily Times.

Talking to the master of the Catawba, that possibility of remaining at sea crossed my mind again. I had always wanted to be on ocean going minesweeper and a fleet tug was similar in size and more of a working ship. It could be, no, should be fun. But I dismissed the thoughts quickly. I was married now and wanted to spend as much time with Maureen as possible.

The next day, the USS Lynde McCormick (DDG 8) came alongside for repair and maintenance services. The planning conference and the ensuing dinner in our captain’s cabin with the McCormick’s commanding officer brought about another first on our transit north in the coming days.

As we concluded the McCormick’s maintenance period, radio messages from CINCPACFLT confirmed our schedule change. The Yosemite would head north in three days, arriving off the island of Masirah, Oman on November 1.

As mentioned earlier, the bad news was the scheduled liberty port visit to Perth, Australia was cancelled. The crew was not happy with the idea of not going to Perth but going to sea and working. Also as mentioned earlier, i was personally disappointed.

I had flown to Perth from Subic Bay, Luzon, Philippines on a C-141 in September 1981 to report aboard USS Okinawa (LPH-3) to relieve Ken Manni and become the weapons officer.

The flight was one of the most miserable in my Navy career. Being the only officer on board other than the flight crew and dressed in my service dress blues, I sat on a cargo jump seat in the back of the aircraft and concerned about my appearance when reporting to Okinawa, I remained there during the flight while a number of the enlisted passengers climbed atop the large amount of cargo and slept sprawled out for most of the initial ten-hour flight. The pilot announced we would land at an Australian air force base in Queensland to refuel and a breakfast had been prepared for us at the base enlisted mess. This was welcomed news as our only in-flight meal was a box lunch we had been handed while boarding. It consisted of a ham and cheese sandwich on white bread with a bag of chips, an apple, and a stale cookie. The flight crew handed out cokes and cups of water sporadically throughout the ten hours.

Unfortunately, no one had told the Australian galley of the plans. The breakfast did not occur and we re-boarded for the remain twelve hours.

But the miserable flight led to one of the best liberty I had during my time at sea. Shortly after I reported aboard, a group of officers hired two cabs to take us to Eagle Wools, a sheepskin plant outside of Perth. I was not interested in purchasing any sheepskins, but decided it would be good to mingle with my new shipmates.

Eagle Wools was consisted of a warehouse where a number of ladies were sewing sheepskins into various items, mostly hats and slippers – they later became the manufacturer of Ugg boots, but that came much later and the warehouse now boasts a modern showroom.

We were greeted by Phil White, the plant’s manager. He pointed the other officers to product sales material and turned them over to the ladies. When he asked me, what I was interested in buying, I responded I wasn’t interested, just along for the ride. He asked me if I would like a beer. Of course, I did. The two of us went over to a corner and a 1950’s era refrigerator. Phil opened it up. It was stuffed with cans and cans of Emu beer. We had both had about three when the officers finished their shopping.

I ran with Phil White and his wife for the rest of our liberty stay. I went to pubs that might as well have been in Britain. Phil took me out to the R&R inn in a park where Australians and Americans escaped from the rigors of battle in World War II and Vietnam. There after a hearty lunch, I had face-to-face time with kangaroos, koalas, and wombats. The couple also introduced me to several enchanting Aussie women. It ended the night before our ships sailed with Phil and I back at Eagle Wool, swapping tall tales. After not intending to buy any wool products at the outset, I ended up with four two-hide sheepskin rugs, a couple of wool hats, and to top it off, a nine-piece sheepskin I have used for a rug before my bachelor fireplace, a bed cover, and something to make me very, very warm when needed.

I was looking forward to escapades with Phil again, but it was not to be.

Chapter 7: Diego Garcia and a Change of Plans

Chapter 7: Diego Garcia and a Change of Plans

While entering into the lagoon through the toes of the “Footprint of Freedom” I recalled my other visit with pleasure. I had been there as the Weapons Officer of the USS Okinawa (LPH 3) in 1982. Sitting seven degrees south of the equator, the atoll measures just over eleven square miles. From the air, the land mass around the lagoon looks much like a footprint, which where its nickname originated among sailors.

The weather is best described as muggy. Although there is considerable wind, I never felt it as a problem. The oppressiveness of mid-70 lows and mid-80 highs throughout the year is mollified somewhat by the ocean breezes. Although the annual rainfall was just over eleven inches, the humidity and the dew points produce categories of “muggy,” “oppressive,” and “miserable,” nothing else all year long. In spite of the small amount of rain, the humidity produces jungle thick vegetation if not held in check. I found it livable, even bearable in the shade and thought if I ever were marooned on an island I would want it to be like Diego Garcia.

But it wasn’t deserted. The base had a gym, complete with racquetball and basketball courts, weight rooms with spas and saunas in the dressing rooms. There were enlisted, chief, and officer clubs, as well as a “seaman’s club” for the merchant marine. The Navy exchange was small but adequate. The exchange had pith helmets like the ones worn by the “Ramar of the Jungle” cast in the television series that ran for two years in the early 1950’s. In my first visit, I bought two pith helmets. I kept one and sent the other to my brother in Vermont. A number of the officers and crew of Yosemite purchased pith helmets as momentoes.

Diego Garcia is the largest and only inhabited island in the Chagos Atoll chain, which consists of approximately sixty islands. It has been a British Indian Ocean Territory. (BIOT) since 1965 when it was detached from being a part of the British colony of Mauritius. The local population, consisting largely of former slaves on the coconut plantation on the eastern side of the island, were forcefully deported to the Seychelles and Mauritius for the British to focus on the island being a forward military operating station for the Indian Ocean.

The British military maintained a presence with a unit of about thirty personnel as the United States Navy became the dominant presence on the island. A significant number of deployed USNS cargo ships were anchored there to provide immediate equipment and supplies to U.S. forces in any surprise conflict in the Mideast or other Indian Ocean areas, particularly in the Persian Gulf. The Navy also commissioned a “Naval Air Facility,” used primarily by the Air Force for long range bombing capability throughout the Indian Ocean.

Once Yosemite anchored in the middle of Diego Garcia’s lagoon, base personnel brought out a large barge to serve as our departure point from the accommodation ladder to the waiting liberty boats to take our crew and officers to the island.

I was a bit anxious again. It seemed I spent quite a bit of time being anxious. Liberty on Diego Garcia would be different than Rota or Majorca. To begin with, there were some Navy female personnel assigned to the Naval Station there, but very few. Our sailors would be going on liberty with just themselves, male and female. And there were no orphanages to attend to, no tours to occupy liberty time. The possibilities concerned me.

We were expecting to be there for almost three weeks, transit to Perth, Australia for liberty, then back to the atoll before a transit and short period anchored off Masirah, Oman.

One of the first events was the transfer of our operations officer. Kathy Rondeau, who in my mind, had proved her mettle. She had been competent and skillful, a good leader. The only assuaging aspect of her departure is Noreen Leahy had proven she would be just as reliable as Kathy.

A good moment in the captain’s and my relationship with Kathy and the other women officers was when, in the presence of the other women officers she asked the two of us, the old guard, about what she should do next to further her career in the Navy. Although aware of the success we had had thus far with women at sea, CAPT Boyle and I both were aware of the senior chain of command, all male, being resistant to allowing women to continue to be on ships. We advised her and the other women officers to continue to go to sea as much as would be allowed. Our reasoning was any operational tour would be looked upon as a plus throughout a female officer’s career. But we also advocated them getting a sub-specialty. Having a sub-specialty would allow them to continue on that path if the advancement for female officers at sea did not go further.

Kathy departed on her way back to a shore billet at her new duty station at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville.

After she left, she sent me a letter, which I received while we were anchored off Masirah. Here are excerpts from that letter:

Thank you for all you did for me. You can never know how much you have helped me grow as a Surface Warfare Officer. That night we spoke about OOD quals – you said a lot of good things and I listened to your good advice. I agree with you about not worrying about what other people think or how other people got their quals. Also, I am proud to be a Surface Warfare Officer, and XO, if it had not been for the cruise, you, and the Captain, I wouldn’t be so proud…

…I never said goodbye to you, XO, it was too hard for me to do…you were so good to me and taught me so much professionally and built up my self-confidence as a Surface Warfare Officer and a department head.

*     *     *

Maureen was never off of my mind. One of the principals at Parron-Hall Office Interiors, Bob Long, where she was an account executive was also an excellent photographer. For a wedding/going away present, Maureen gave me some beautiful photos of her. One large one framed, which I hung on the after bulkhead of my office so I could look at it anytime I glanced up from my desk. It was the photo, Dina Weaver, the ship’s ombudsmen noticed Maureen looked like Susan Lucci, the long term star of “All My Children.”

I looked at that photo a lot. After all of my work had been put to bed, I would write her a letter, perhaps adding every night. Sometimes I would write just for me. Here is a poem I wrote and sent to her between Yosemite clearing the Suez and Diego Garcia:

To Maureen, the Beginning of an Epic Poem

 Indian Ocean phosphorescence,
glowing wave in the night
awes me not,
i have seen this glow in other oceans,
while young sailors shout in delight
at their sighting the sparkling waves;
i, unamused, return to my stateroom
with better things to do
like dream visions that are real.

 there should have been a diaphanous mist,
ethereal, mystical,
flowing about her
when she walked toward me
the first time
(mind, do not play tricks on me:
i desire to remember the moment
exactly as it was,
clear, finite.
her dress a gossamer gown,
softly caressing the elegance of her body;
her hair curled and falling to her shoulders gracefully,
framing her delicate, fine yet soft features;
eyes, oh eyes that drew me in, took my breath,
suggested more than my mind could comprehend,
grasped my soul
and
told Scherazade’s thousand tales,
drawing me into a bottomless pit of emotion
before i knew emotion could have no end,
allowing me to float suspended in her beauty.

 i was afraid to speak,
afraid i might fall from suspension,
might break the image before me;
then we got down to business;
what in god’s name did i think, i think;
perhaps suspicious of her beauty,
certainly awed;
i made a joke.
did she notice i was nervous?

oh, little boy,
walk away
if you are merely making a furniture deal;
walk away happy with the thought
you will see her at least one more time.

 i am deep into the Indian Ocean night;
i have learned to gauge the depth of the night
by the strength of the coffee;
now, the coffee is knock your socks off strong,
burnt grounds black;
the work seems endless;
the sea is infinite;
yet i smile
when i dream of her.

*     *     *

Before we had arrived in Diego Garcia, I decided to let Maureen know our schedule.

I hedged on rules about confidential material in a quick note to Maureen. I felt guilty in that I would be screaming mad, or at least fake being screaming mad if a junior officer or sailor had divulged such information to a spouse, but I also knew from experience, ship’s schedules, although confidential information, were quickly available to just about everybody. I overcame my guilt when I thought our schedule was set. I sent it to Maureen with trepidation:

Boggs,

Around the world seems to be a lost hope. Here’s the schedule as we know it:
14-24 Oct: Diego Garcia
25 Oct– 2 Nov: Transit to Perth
3-7 Nov – Perth, Australia
8-16 Nov – Transit to Diego Garcia
17 Nov – 7 Dec: Diego Garcia
7-12 Dec – Transit to Masirah, Oman
13-25 Dec – Masirah, Oman (anchorage, no liberty)
26-31 Dec – Transit to Diego Garcia
1-10 Jan – Transit to Mombasa, Kenya
11-17 Jan – Mombassa, Kenya
18-23 Jan – En route to North Arabian Sea
29 Jan-9 Feb – Ops North Arabian Sea (i’m guessing we’ll be at anchorage in Karachi, Pakistan with some liberty)
10 Feb-21 Mar – En route Mayport (Best bet is one stop in the Western Mediterranean: we plan to ask for Malaga, Spain. If we could stop in the eastern Med, it would most likely be Athens or Korfu, Greece.

*     *     *

The first morning after arriving, we had our “turnover” with the USS Cape Cod (AD 43). It was very short. The tender we were relieving had not had one period of maintenance for a Navy ship. We were appalled. The thought of sitting at anchor in the lagoon with nothing to do was not a comforting thought. Captain Boyle thought of a way to make us more effective and was determined to make it happen. He forwarded his proposal to Admiral Butcher, our immediate operating superior and the Commander, Task Force 76, and Admiral Hogg, Commander 7th Fleet, the senior Navy officer for operations in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean

Captain Boyle recommended Yosemite, rather than remaining in Diego Garcia except for one December week off of Oman and the liberty trip to Perth Australia, sail immediately to anchorage off Masirah, Oman and provide maintenance and repair services to ships of Battle Group Alfa, the USS Ranger (CV 61) carrier group for the bulk of our time in the Indian Ocean.

The chain of command realized Captain Boyle’s idea had merit and ordered Yosemite to get underway and head to an anchorage off the island of Masirah, Oman much earlier than scheduled.

The problem the captain had identified was distance. Nearly all, if not all U.S. combatants were operating in the North Arabian Sea or in the Persian Gulf, a distance of over 2,000 miles from Diego Garcia. For a ship to receive maintenance and repair services, she had to transit that distance twice to get to and from Diego Garcia, over 4,000 miles. That’s over ten days. Adding the repair availability, normally two weeks back in the states, would make a ship unavailable to meet operational requirements for over three weeks.

Going to anchorage off the island and staying there until Christmas made good sense. Compared to Diego Garcia, Masirah is much closer to the primary operation areas of U.S. forces. A ship could reach Yosemite within a day of being on station, sometimes less. Since Yosemite would be at anchor, essentially at sea, with no liberty, time for services to be completed could be compressed into much shorter periods. Such a move would allow Yosemite to be much more effective in accomplishing her mission, i.e. providing support services to combatants in a forward deployed area.

Chapter 6: The Red Sea, The Indian Ocean, and Crossing the Line

Chapter 6: The Red Sea, The Indian Ocean, and Crossing the Line

The ten days transiting the length of the Red Sea was rather uneventful although I was concerned about a relatively unarmed U.S. Navy ship in a less than friendly area. The Gulf of Aden transit was no less traumatic although it felt more like being at sea than anything in the Canal or the Red Sea.

Looming ahead was a significant concern of mine. I decided not to discuss it with anyone, even the captain. It was going to be what it was going to be, and my discussing it would not change it. On Wednesday, October 12, Yosemite would cross the equator. The ship would experience “Crossing the Line.” “Crossing the Line” was a rough initiation in my old Navy. I was concerned it might get out of hand, and that could become a huge problem for a ship with 106 enlisted women, two female chiefs, and six female officers.

In general, the Navy had been cracking down on hazing, which for centuries was a major part of the initiation of “pollywogs” (those who had not crossed the equator) by “shellbacks” (those who had crossed the line and gone through the initiation). I knew. I was a shellback.

In 1979, I flew to Hobart, Tasmania to join the staff of Commander, Amphibious Squadron Five as Current Operations Officer aboard USS Tripoli (LPH 10), a helicopter carrier. Our staff numbered about thirty, the ship’s complement was just short of 700, and the number of embarked USMC personnel on the landing force commander’s staff and the marine air unit also numbered just less than 700. The ship had crossed the equator en route to Tasmania. The number of pollywogs was significantly more than the number of shellbacks. It was a raucous two days.

The number of personnel, i.e. pollywogs, reporting in Tasmania included about 100 enlisted marines and one lieutenant commander, aka me.

Tripoli departed Hobart and went to Sydney, Australia for a week. Following Sydney, we made a port visit to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. After New Guinea, we headed for Subic Bay, Luzon, Philippines, and crossing the equator en route.

The officer I was relieving, Lieutenant Commander Conrad Bormann, knew “Crossing the Line” could be very rough for me. Out of 100 pollywogs, I was the only Navy type and the only officer. The 900 or so brand new shellbacks were excited about being on the giving part of the initiation, especially to initiate the one Navy lieutenant commander. Conrad gave me the low down on what was going to happen, how I should pick out my shabbiest working khaki to wear backwards and inside out for the ceremony, and how to act. He went an extra mile by promising to escort me through the initiation line to prevent some overzealous new shellback from hurting me.

After getting up an early hour, I dug out my oldest and most stained khakis (having been a chief engineer, I manage to soil a number of working khakis), turned them inside out, and pulled them on. I reported to the mess decks and was met by Conrad. I pretty much faked eating the “green” eggs and other supposedly gross breakfast fare. I figured I didn’t need anything on my stomach for what was going to happen next.

Conrad escorted me to the gauntlet of eager new shellbacks excited about getting to lay on to a lieutenant commander with their shillelagh’s (lengths of fire hose cut to be flexible paddles). The shillelagh-wielding gang did not disappoint. I was amply whacked as I crawled along the flight deck, confident and assured Conrad was watching to make sure it would not get worse.

On my knees, I was ushered to the boatswain, one of the…how shall I say this, ahh… most stomach-ample sailors on the ship. It was time to kiss the “Boatswain’s Belly.” He grabbed by ears and forced by head into the folds of his grossly greased belly. This could have been really bad, but Conrad had it stopped before I completely lost my breath.

Still, it had not been unbearable, and I was confident as I approached the last two steps. It would soon be over. Conrad’s escort was a blessing. Then, as I approached the chute filled with garbage we had to crawl through, Conrad, after a messenger had run down to him from the flag bridge nudged me and said, “We just received a top secret radio op-immediate radio message. I have to go read it, brief the commodore and chief staff officer, but I’ll get back as soon as I can.

As I faced the jury rigged tube stuffed with the previous night and morning messes garbage, my confidence dimmed a bit. But it was only about fifty feet, and one more event. I made it through and was spitting and trying to clear gunk out of my eyes and ears. I saw the final event was being hoisted in a cargo net along with three or four other pollywogs and being blasted by a firehose stream. Considering all of the slime I had all over me and filling most of my pores, that didn’t sound too bad.

But as I headed, again on my hands and knees, to the cargo net’s final indignity, they stopped me. I was informed as an officer, especially a lieutenant commander, the only officer on the ship who was a pollywog, I would have to kiss the boatswain’s belly and traverse the chute again.

Being a good sport, I went through the ordeal again. This time with that unholy garbage mess now filling the pores of my pores, I once again headed for the cargo net. Once again, I was stopped. Once again, I went through the line. I was beginning to wonder, but Conrad finally came back, saw what was going on, and took me to my cleansing.

Back in my stateroom, I stripped out of my inside out khakis, violated the Navy shower rule with a non-stop fifteen minute drenching, trying to wash as much as I could off of me. Finished and dressed, I gingerly held my initiation uniform away from me, walked out to the weather decks and tossed the garments into the sea.

So I was very aware of what could happen at the Crossing the Line initiation.

We used every way of communicating to keep things under control, including a POD note:

  1. CROSSING THE EQUATOR: (THE INITIATION)

GENERAL SAFETY GUIDELINES: “CROSSING THE EQUATOR” IS A TIME HONORED TRADITION IN WHICH AN INITIATION CEREMONY IS PERFORMED TO INTRODUCE THE SLIMY, GREASY POLLYWOGS TO TRUSTY SHELLBACKISM. IT CAN AND SHOULD BE FUN FOR ALL HANDS. IT CAN ALSO BE UNNECESSARILY INJURIOUS AND HUMILIATING IF COMMON SENSE IS NOT APPLIED TO TONE DOWN THE PHYSICAL AND MENTAL ACTS WHICH ARE INVOLVED. SHELLBACKS MUST GUARD AGAINST BEING OVERZEALOUS WHEN APPLYING THOSE WELL-DESERVED WALLOPS TO THE HIND SIDES OF THE SLIMY POLLYWOGS. THE SAFETY REGULATIONS SHALL BE STRICTLY ENFORCED AND ANY PERSONNEL VIOLATING THOSE REGULATIONS WILL BE REQUIRED TO FORFEIT ANY PARTICIPATION IN THE CEREMONY. THE WOGS WATCH COMMITTEE HAS THE OVERALL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE SAFETY OF BOTH POLLYWOGS AND THE SHELLBACKS ON THE FORECASTLE. ALL SENIOR PERSONNEL ON COMMITTEES HAVE OVERALL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE SAFETY OF BOTH THE POLLYWOGS AND SHELLBACKS IN THEIR ASSIGNED AREAS. THE FOLLOWING GENERAL SAFETY GUIDELINES SHALL APPLY:

    1. FIRE HOSES SHALL NOT BE USED INSIDE THE SKIN OF THE SHIP.
    2. FIRE HOSES SHALL NOT BE SPRAYED DIRECTLY TOWARD POLLYWOGS.
    3. NO FOREIGN MATTER OF ANY KIND WILL BE RUBBED INTO EYES, EARS, OR NOSE.
    4. WALLOPS, TO THE HIND SIDES, SHALL BE MADE WITH CARE TO AN AREA BELOW THE WAIST AND ABOVE THE CROTCH AND SHALL ONLY BE ADMINISTERED IN THE DESIGNATED “SHILLELAGH LINE.”
    5. CARE MUST BE TAKEN TO AVOID DIRECTING WATER TOWARD ELECTRICAL BOXES AND OUTLETS.
    6. ACTIVITIES INCIDENT TO “CROSSING THE LINE” WILL BE CONDUCTED ON WEATHER DECKS ONLY. ALL AREAS INSIDE THE SKIN OF THE SHIP ARE OFF LIMITS TO INITIATION EVENTS.
    7. POLLYWOGS WILL WALK UP AND DOWN LADDERS.
    8. SHOWER SHOES OR RUBBER PADS WILL BE TAPED TO THE KNEES.

I considered adding some comments to the above note concerning sexual abuse of any kind being cause for NJP. I remembered our watchwords of not having men and women but sailors aboard and decided against such a warning.

Captain Boyle, Command Master Chief Weaver, who would be King Neptune in the ceremonies, and I had numerous meetings on security and how to handle any misconduct. The word got out. It was not a patty cake initiation. It was pretty much the way I remembered them. It just happened to be some women pollywogs who became shellbacks that day.

The ceremony, I thought, was really good for morale. Everyone had gone through the ordeal or meted out the initiation requirements together. Everyone was proud of getting through the two days, and everyone on board was a certified shellback.

Now it was time to get ready for Diego Garcia.

As we approached Diego Garcia, the captain and I wanted to be sure our sailors understood our rules. After discussing liberty on Diego Garcia, I published the following note in 4 October Plan of the Day and it ran daily in the POD until we reached the lagoon:

  1. Fraternization: The following USS Yosemite regulation is provided for the information of all hands: Fraternization between crew members of the opposite sex is prohibited on board or on the pier controlled by Yosemite. There will be no displays of affection, physical contact, or other type of conduct except that which is normally expected in a military environment. Off ship, public display of affection between Navy members in uniform is prohibited.

The morning of Thursday, 13 October, we went from pollywogs and shellbacks to sailors a day out of port. Not counting the Suez Canal transit and the refueling stop in Augusta, Sicily, we had been out of port since leaving Palma de Majorca 27 September, the longest continuous time at sea, 16 days, for the vast majority of Yosemite’s crew.

We began our preparations for entering port in earnest. A fresh water wash down of the entire weather decks was conducted that morning. A navigation brief for entering port was held in the wardroom in the afternoon. We took a break when the captain cut the cake on the mess decks to celebrate the Navy’s 208th birthday and then held a brief on boat operations, especially liberty boat runs, presented on the ship’s closed circuit television in the evening.

1425, Friday, 14 October 1983: USS Yosemite (AD 19) anchored in the middle of the lagoon of Diego Garcia. Known to sailors as the “Footprint of Freedom,” Diego Garcia had a significant U.S. Navy presence in the British Territory, the largest island in the Chagos Atoll Island chain

There is not much there. However, I had said during my previous stop there in 1982 on USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3), it was my vision of the island I would like to be on if marooned. It was still that enchanting.

Chapter Five: The Med and the Suez Canal, part four

When we moored in Palma, I had been the executive officer for forty days. The Yosemite had been on deployment for two weeks. I was still learning how to be an effective executive officer. After Palma, we had an overnight of steaming to Augusta Bay, Sicily. Our stop in Sicily was brief. We anchored in the bay.

It was difficult being number two, essentially subjugating my natural inclinations to the captain, and in many ways, adapting my behavior to most effectively lead and manage all of my subordinates while demonstrating the behaviors he expected and deserved from me as his number two. I expressed my frustration in a long letter to Maureen:

Lady,

i almost lost it somewhere in mid-Palma until tonight {October 14}. I could feel the edge creeping in, the desire to not be where i was, the frustration, the lack of confidence all waxing toward the surface. There was no place to breathe, no one to talk to. The box (cassette tape) i spoke into was only a box, did not respond. The letters i placed on the paper were cold and flat, dull nothings that said less. I perceived all around me shrinking into their protective envelopes, not working together for the whole, lobbying for their interests, and i could feel all of those good feelings ebbing, not gone, but i could feel myself sliding back into the mire.

(Another day). But i caught it, stopped it, put the world in perspective, thought of you, loved you, thought of how long it would be before i saw you.

Then came another malady. Plague immunization came for me as we readied for entering the Navy port of Augusta, Sicily. The shot slowly went from having the expected sore arm into a touch of the plague, driving me down into a slight fever; my work hours caught up with me and the combination demanded sleep as retribution. i yielded amidst the silly mast cases of drunks, malcontents, malingerers, and young, good sailors losing their heads over their first piece of bona fide foreign tail and explained to me at XOI: “I met this girl and my friend and hers went back to her apartment and accidentally fell asleep. She didn’t have no clock, and I didn’t have no watch.”

So i see this twenty-year old sailor, and i try to imagine the inept, drunken groping and all else that went on, and i wish i could tell him some things but i know he would never understand even if he listened and most likely will never learn.

(I should point out not all male sailors followed the women sailors as I claimed earlier.)

*     *     * 

One of my goals after taking over as XO was to update the ship’s instructions and eliminate duplication of instructions issued by higher authority. The first night after Commander Sheffield had departed, I hung my photograph of Maureen, arranged the office to my liking, and began to examine my surroundings. There was a built in bookcase behind my desk, about six feet tall and about five feet wide. It held two-inch and three-inch loose leaf notebooks. They were filled with Yosemite generated instructions, some dating back probably to when she was commissioned in 1945. I wanted to leave after my tour with a set of ship instructions that were current, logical, and built upon existing instructions from our superiors, not parroting or duplicating them.

I didn’t think I could complete them in what I anticipated to be a two-year tour, at the longest three years. But I was going to try.

The only time to work on this revision project was each evening underway after I had briefed the Captain following 8 O’clock Reports. This meant I would usually start around 2200 because after my meeting in the Captain’s cabin, there was always a department head or someone else who wanted to talk to me. I enjoyed these conversations at the end of the day and didn’t discourage them. Chaplin Poe was a great confidant. We would share stories and discuss potential problems and complain to each other. George Sitton was another frequent visitor in the evening. George and I respected each other’s knowledge of the sea and deck seamanship, and he was an old style sailor like me with a caustic humor.

There were others, but I most welcomed Frank Kerrigan, the doc. As mentioned earlier, Frank was brand new to the Navy. The powers that were then had not sent him to “knife and fork school,” which we laughingly referred to an indoctrination period for officers who had no prior Navy experience like doctors, attorneys (JAG), and chaplains. Frank graduated from Michigan State on a basketball scholarship. Although he never made the varsity squad, he scrimmaged against Magic Johnson. That made him a superior athlete in my analysis. We both loved sports. Frank was the one person on the ship with whom I could talk about things without my position of number two having any impact on my duties as executive officer. For Frank, I was able to explain many things about the Navy no new officer without any indoctrination would know. We were both recently married. It was a great relief to spend a couple of hours with no pressure.

But the doc and the others had lots of things to do and all were gone most of the time before taps. That’s when I would pull down a notebook from the bookshelf and begin shredding it, checking it for being current and for duplication. Arduous work. But somebody had to do it. Actually no one had to do it, but I thought it should be done.

*     *     *

Other than the crypto destruction and the drug case, the two-day journey to the southeastern part of the Mediterranean Ocean was mostly uneventful. The ship arrived at Port Said, the entrance to the Suez Canal at night. It was confusing immediately. The anchorage held an uncountable number of ships with their standing lights shining like a sky with thousands of stars. I don’t recall seeing any other area of the seas with more ships other than the entrance to the Malacca Straits near Singapore. For some reason, this mass of every kind of ship and vessel imaginable struck me as more ominous.

The next morning, ships began entering the canal at 0400. Yosemite’s turn in line came early, getting underway at 0100. We steamed to the entrance and took the pilot on board. The Navy had warned us about taking on board other parties, even if recommended by the pilot. The other parties usually claimed extra lighting was required and then charged exorbitant fees for essentially useless floodlights. Even though we had briefed the key sea detail personnel on this warning, a team of five Egyptians were allowed to board with the pilot. When the captain and I were informed, we instructed our personnel posted at the entry to the ship on the port quarter to quarantine the Egyptians in a small compartment for the duration of the transit.

Captain Boyle quite rightly was very conservative in his view of foreign nationals being aboard the ship. He was very accommodating to guests but also very protective of his ship and his crew. His recollection of the Egyptian pilot:

My most vivid recollection is the pilot. Somehow I became aware that he had been disrespectful of our female officer, (Linda, I think) as she escorted him to the bridge. I was furious and had as little contact with him as possible. He was less than worthless foisted on us by the Egyptians. As I recall I directed him to your chair on the bridge and for him to remain there and that he had no further interaction with our women crew members.

Having spent lengthy times in Subic Bay, I was very aware of the deceptiveness and the thievery of foreign natives boarding Navy ships. I was quite angry our personnel had allowed the Egyptian floodlight team aboard. The Egyptian pilot blustered his indignation at our not allowing his team to have free access aboard the ship, but we remained adamant. I too recall the pilot sitting in the executive officer’s chair (mine) on the port side in the pilot house.

*     *     *

Captain Boyle remained on the open bridge through almost the entire transit of the canal. Although he relied heavily on the experience and expertise of Lieutenant Sitton to serve as Officer of the Deck and conning officer, he allowed others to conn the ship under his or George’s oversight. I suspect when our female officers, Lieutenant Kathy Rondeau, Lieutenant Sharon Carrasco, Lieutenant Junior Grade Noreen Leahy, and Ensign Emily Black to take the conn, they were the first females to drive a capital ship in the Suez Canal.

If I can get past the hubris of the pilot and the unethical, if not illegal boarding of the floodlight team, the passage through the Suez was remarkable and thought provoking.

Even though I had witnessed the conglomeration of ships waiting for entry into the canal, the never ending line of large ships of every type was just incredible. For example, the number of languages used in the necessary communication with the canal transit operators was astounding. Once in the transit, I was not only staggered by the numbers but concerned about safety. The distance between ships was 500 to 1,000 yards. I worried about another ship’s going DIW (Dead in the water) due to engine malfunction or, because of a language barrier, a miscommunication between a ship’s master, the pilot (especially if they were as all incompetent as ours), canal operations, and another ship creating a potential collision. It was not a comforting thought. I was positive my concerns were echoed by Captain Boyle.

When I could divert my concerns about the shipping, the canal itself was stunning. The engineering effort required to dig a watercourse 120-miles long and a width that easily can accommodate the U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carriers was nothing short of amazing to see.

My everlasting impression of the journey was sand. There were other emotional reactions. Shortly after clearing the passage through Port Said, evidence of the Six Day War and Israel’s sudden victory was evident, even twenty-six years later. Destroyed tanks and armored vehicles partially jutted from the sand. It was sobering to consider how swift and deadly the Israelis took the Gaza Strip. Not too much later, we passed small villages. The citizens, especially youths, sat on the canal wall with their feet hanging over the edge laughing and yelling as Yosemite passed by. It was a different world than ours, almost as if they were from an earlier century, at that moment only yards away.

At 0900, eight hours after beginning our transit, the column of ships anchored in the Great Bitter Lake. It was a salt water lake, and it was barren. Ship columns would anchor there to allow the columns transiting in the other direction to pass and reenter the one-way canal on the other side. Four hours, we stood at anchor, getting underway headed south again at 1343.

The rest of the transit was uneventful. But when we dropped off the pilot and the band of thieves and cleared the canal, we all breathed a sigh of relief, especially the captain and I.

Chapter Five: The Med and the Suez Canal, part three

We moored pier side. I was back in Palma, one of my favorite liberty ports of all time.

The other time I had visited Palma de Majorca, the island’s large city, I was the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Officer aboard the USS Stephen B. Luce (DLG 7). Majorca was the epitome of my vision of a Mediterranean island.

The city of Palma is as old European as you can get except for the weather, which seemed to always be Mediterranean perfect. The perimeter of the island was composed of separate beach communities of different nationalities filled with tourists on vacation. On that previous stop, a shipmate and I traveled the perimeter, stopping every five miles or so when we could detect a community of different nationality, seeing Spanish, German, Dutch, French, Italian, and so forth. Better yet, all of the beaches did not require tops. And nearly every commune had a disco.

It was fun, but I was married with a brand new daughter back in Paris, Texas. So I had a drink and watched. Also there was great shopping with great prices back when a sailor could get a bargain in Europe. Best of all was sitting around at the tapas bars on the streets and drinking Sangria.

This time, it was different. I was the XO, in charge, leading by example. We greeted the welcoming party, which included U.S. expatriates in the Navy League. The Navy League has good and bad points. I had been exposed to both on previous tours. I was a bit wary, but these folks when they met with the Captain and this XO in the captain’s cabin were anxious to reach out to help the sailors have a good time. Even though I was somewhat concerned with Palma being the first real liberty port for this ship with women in the crew and thought I should remain on board and monitor the situation, I could not evade a dinner at the home of an elderly Navy League couple when they invited Captain Boyle and me to their home for dinner two evenings later.

The first night of liberty gave me my first inclination of how having women as part of the crew could be beneficial. The wardroom officers on liberty had taken off to various attractions in the city and the island. I went into the “gut” with George Sitton, Ken Clausen, and Steve Strzemienski to check out how our sailors, men of course, were behaving.

The “gut” is Navy slang, somewhat of a generic term for an area in a big city, mostly in Europe, where sailors liked to hang out. It was an area filled with floozy bars and floozy women. It might even be labeled as a “red light” district. In many places, like Naples, Italy, it has been declared off limits to sailors by SOPA (Senior Officer Present Afloat) or the shore commander because of the unsavory and even dangerous reputation, certainly deserved in most “guts” I knew. Of course, sailors of the old guard loved to go to those kinds of places.

But not Yosemite sailors on this voyage. The gut was essentially empty of our sailors. We finally found an old, spacious bar with our sailors, about a half dozen of them. But they were chiefs, not junior enlisted. Master Chief Weaver, our command master chief; Master Chief Brewer, the leader of the huge R-2 Division, the heart of the Repair Department, Yosemite’s main producer of repair and maintenance work; Chief Johns, the boatswainmate chief who was always annoyed that most of the other chiefs had not been on deploying ship before; and several other chiefs sitting around a large table, drinking beer.

They asked us to join them, and we did for a couple of beers. It was an enjoyable hour or so. Master Chief Weaver, after an inquiry from me, acknowledged he never drank any alcohol except beer. He told me he quit the hard stuff because it made him crazy and angry and only got him into trouble.

When we got back to the ship, I puzzled over why our sailors had not flooded the gut. It wasn’t off limits and Palma’s “gut” was the prototypical area for old Navy liberty hounds. It finally dawned on me our sailors didn’t go there because we had female sailors, and female sailors certainly wouldn’t be attracted to the gut. We had arranged for a tour program in Palma. On Saturday the day after our arrival, day tours were scheduled for La Calobra, a magnificent beach reached on a winding narrow road with incredible views, and the Caves of Drach, four wonders including an underground lake. In the evenings, a “Medieval Banquet” was on Saturday as well as a BBQ dinner show at Son Amar, a venue just outside Majorca, famous for comedy, show horses, and acrobatics.

It was the beginning of a liberty transfiguration for the Navy. The women were interested in these tours and shows.

So Yosemite male sailors went where the female sailors went, not to the gut. I hoped it would last.

Palma was as enchanting as Captain Boyle and I recalled from our previous visits. We enjoyed our evening with the Navy League couple. It was fortuitous for me as they invited me to join another Navy Leaguer for golf at the Palma Country Club the next day. I accepted.

The gentleman picked me up at the ship and drove me out to the club where we played 18. The course was extremely nice, and I liked the layout. Being on a Mediterranean island, it was dry and dusty. Still, it was a good time, and the gentleman and I had appetizers and a gin and tonic before he took me back to the ship. Even though my golf game was its usual awful, I felt like I was in high cotton.

Palma was a very successful port visit. I was amazed. There were no liberty incidents. I had never been on a ship that did not have some kind of an international incident during liberty in an overseas port and my liberty ports in foreign countries was extensive. I was also astounded when I received the Welfare and Recreation report of tours. Over three-quarters of enlisted personnel had gone on ship scheduled tours. No ship I had ever been on had more than twenty percent, if that, to go on tours.

Again, I simply hoped all of our port visits would have the same happy ending.

*     *     *

From the day I relieved as executive officer and throughout our voyage to Diego Garcia, XOI and Captain’s mast were frequent occurrences, often twice a week.

When someone was charged with a violation under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a long way from the Navy’s original Rocks and Shoals, the procedure aboard ship was for the accused to be screened by the executive officer . The XO could either dismiss the charges or send the accused up the chain to Captain’s Mast. My part of the process was called XOI for “Executive Officer’s Inquiry.” While the executive officer was not supposed to mete out any punishment, also prohibited from the department head, the division officer, the division chief, or leading petty officers, this prohibition was often circumvented with threats like “…if you don’t want to go see the captain, then I’ll put you in hack (stay on board the ship) for three days.”

When I first came into the Navy, liberty cards were dispensed at quarters or after the working day to all personnel who did not have the duty that day. Those precious cards were often missing when a sailor had done something to displease the LPO, CPO, division officer, etc. and the sailor had no option but to remain on board. During my early Navy days, the old system of Rocks and Shoals had not completely disappeared at the lower levels. It was not uncommon for an offending sailor to be taken to the boatswain’s locker and return black and blue from an unofficial disciplinary beating. Many sailors considered that a better option than being sent to captain’s mast.

I never participated in that, but I was involved with others delivering such punishment several times when I was a junior officer on the old destroyers. I certainly didn’t offer punishments or threats during my XOI’s on Yosemite. However, I became pretty good at chewing sailors out and then dismissing the charges before captain’s mast. After all, I had many opportunities to watch executive officers and commanding officers do some pretty amazing acts to scare or intimidate sailors at mast before dismissing the charges. To put it another way, I had learned from the masters.

Even though the rules and regulations for shipboard discipline had been spelled out and there were few options for the XO to mete out discipline, he…or rather I could be an effective disciplinary force.

The word about my ability at chewing out sailors at XOI quickly became known in the wardroom, especially by the seasoned warrant officers. By the time we reached the Indian Ocean, over two months, my ability became so well known, a warrant officer would sometimes call me aside to tell me he had put a sailor on report and was sending him to XOI but the case shouldn’t go to the captain.

On one occasion, the warrant officer explained, “XO, this kid I’m sending to you is a pretty good kid who did a stupid thing. He doesn’t need to see the Captain; he just needs a good ass chewing; and you are the best at that.” And after I gave the sailor a superb chewing out, and as the party was leaving my office, the warrant officer turned to me and gave me a “thumbs up.”

There was one occasion after the deployment where the sailor who appeared before me had been four hours late in reporting aboard from liberty. He limply explained he was sitting in his apartment and had waited for his ride from another sailor. When I asked him why he had not called the ship to tell his superiors he would be late, or why he had not called his ride to find out if the ride was coming, he told me he thought it was best for him to just wait.

“Are you telling me you just sat in a chair in your apartment doing nothing for four hours and thought that was the best way to handle the situation?” I asked.

When he meekly nodded assertion, I arose from my chair behind my desk and walked into my small head leading forward to my cabin. The mirror above the sink faced aft and could be seen from the position of attention before my desk where the sailor stood during XOI. I looked in the mirror, making sure the sailor was watching my reflection. I studied my face, twisting it, looking at it from different angles in the mirror before returning to my desk.

“Do I look that stupid?” I yelled, “I don’t think I look that stupid. Do you think I look stupid enough to believe your story?”

I then chewed him up and down for his stupidity for about five minutes, going on a rage, pounding my desk, before finally turning to him and his chain of command to announce.

“This time I’m going to dismiss this case. But if it ever happens again, I will see you go to a court martial. Got that?” I yelled.

When the sailor nodded numbly, I announced, “Case dismissed. Get him outta here.”

But there were some difficulties in my tough guy XO image.

There were a couple of people who always attended XOI. The legal yeoman, YNC Lucy Gwinner recorded the proceedings. The admin/legal officer, Ensign Mike Jackson also attended to provide Navy legal advice, the command master chief, BMCM Weaver, the chief or LPO and division officer of the accused, and finally the Substance Abuse Coordinator, or SAC. The Yosemite’s SAC was EMC Paul. She was the only female chief electrician in the Navy at the time. She had had a rough time with alcohol but had gone through a recovery program and wanted to help others, a perfect mindset for the job of counseling sailors concerning drug abuse, the recovery programs available, and the options sailors had. She attended XOI in case I needed expert opinion on what we should do when drug or alcohol abuse might be involved and also there to be assigned counseling duties for the sailor in front of me. EMC Paul was also tough as nails. She was old Navy. I admired and respected her.

She knew my act.

So when I was putting on my act, going on my tirades, she knew I was on stage, performing at the top of my game. But occasionally, I would do something, like the mirror looking stupid stunt she knew was an act, and she found what I was doing humorous. It was very difficult to continue with my rage charade when EMC Paul was stifling her laughter in the after section of my office, behind the accused.

Then there were a few occasions when a female sailor came before me and I had to strike the fear of US Navy justice in her heart. Male sailors could break down. I could not only handle their breaking down, it fueled my performance because I knew they were absorbing the lesson. But when the female sailor began to break down and cry, it was very difficult for me to continue in my tough guy role. EMC Paul laughed at that as well.

Once when she started laughing quietly behind the accused’s back, I lost it. Another sailor and done something really stupid and ended up reporting to duty late. After hearing another long winded and worthless explanation, I started beating the desk with my fists again, but stopped and asked Chief Paul if she knew what diseases the doctor could handle.

Chief Paul looked puzzled.

Then, I explained, “I need to know if he can cure terminal dumbness because this guy has it so bad I’m afraid he’s going to die right here.”

Chief Paul began to shake while muffling her laugh. Seeing her, I could feel myself losing it. I spun my chair around and began laughing into my handkerchief, hoping the sailor would think I had a coughing spell. Finally, I turned around and dismissed him with my usual fit of an angry warning.

Then, Chief Paul and I both had a good laughing session.

Note on My Short Absence

I may or may not publish an installment of my book today, a Thursday, as i have taken to doing on a regular basis. i have a higher priority for the next several days.

Our very good friends, Pete and Nancy Toennies invited us to join them in Palm Desert for two rounds of golf and three nights of good eats. We did.

We left on Wednesday morning and stopped at what is becoming our regular rest stop for lunch in Temecula. The Meritage is a wonderful restaurant in the Callaway winery. It is extremely good food with a great view, unpretentious but great service with, of course, wonderful wine.

We played at Shadow Ridge today and tomorrow. It is a wonderful course and the weather was the best spring in the desert can offer: temperature in the mid 80’s, humidity in the 20 percentage, and snow on the mountains. And these three made it worthwhile in being my top priority.